September 2005 - Kids Just Want to Have Fun

How a memorable ’80s pop song and a smart marketing plan boosted a Canadian theme park

By Alexandra Harrington

What happens when the threat of the SARS virus slows Canadian tourism to a trickle and it’s your job to promote Toronto’s “downtown water playground?” Terry Caddo, director of marketing and communications for Ontario Place, faced just such a dilemma. On top of overall poor tourism, Toronto’s government theme park, Ontario Place, had other marketing hurdles to overcome. While the park had always been one of Ontario’s most popular tourist attractions, research showed that the park’s traditional 30-second commercials were not portraying its attractions to the fullest.

“With all of the innovative new rides and attractions, it became quite obvious that a simple print campaign or series of short-form commercials would not be enough to inform customers of the incredible excitement available at Ontario Place,” says Lana duBois, promotions and marketing manager for Torstar Media Group Television. “So for the first time in its history, the Ontario Government/ Ontario Place decided to commission a long-form DRTV production.”

According to Caddo, he spoke with three companies in a competitive bidding process and chose TMGTV Productions. TMGTV, based in Toronto is a full-service video production facility that includes a 3D virtual set studio, digital cameras, AVID edit suites, DVD authoring and encoding.

Along with promoting the new rides and attractions, Ontario Place had several other marketing needs to be met. A main advertising requirement was to attract adults with children under the age of 12. “Research showed that our target market didn’t realize we had offerings for children,” says Caddo. The ensuing “Kids Just Wanna Have Fun” campaign was the result of a brainstorming session between TMGTV executives, Caddo and other Ontario Place staff, which took place in March 2004. The theme was adopted for radio, print, 30-second spots and long form. “When deciding upon a campaign theme, the desire was to appeal to the target market of kids, while attracting nostalgic parents as well,” explains duBois. “The rights to the classic ’80s pop song, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, were purchased and the lyrics were re-written to reflect the park’s numerous attractions.”

The DRTV ads aired in Ontario and Buffalo on 10 stations. The long form ran on SHOPTV Canada, which like TMGTV Productions is under the umbrella of Torstar Media Group Television. While Caddo chose to use the typical length for the company’s infomercial, Cindy Martino, producer for TMGTV Productions, notes that one of the advantages of using TMGTV is that it is able to customize the length of a client’s long form to meet the company’s needs and run it on its station, SHOPTV Canada. duBois notes that SHOPTV Canada, which began operation in 1997, is the largest English 24-hour teleshopping channel broadcasting long- and short-form advertising in Southern Ontario, Canada’s biggest and most lucrative television market. The channel is available in about 1.5 million households and reaches 750,000 viewers in an average week.

According to Tony Sasso, account executive at Torstar Media Group Television, there were two main versions of the creative for the half-hour ad, the one-minute and the 30-second ad. The first one, running from June to July 4, 2004 focused on the “Festival of Fire,” fireworks celebrating both Canada’s and the United States’ birthdays. The second, running in the latter part of the summer, featured the water park, Soak City. “There were different call-to-actions based on the time of year,” says Sasso. Print was handled in- house by Caddo, but also encompassed the “Kids Just Wanna Have Fun” theme. “We used the theme throughout the campaign,” says Caddo, “from the 30-second ads to the website and onsite signage.” The same talent for the television campaign was brought in for the print campaign so the customer saw the same on-air family in all of the creative, including the park pamphlets. The Kids Just Wanna Have Fun song was also performed by live entertainment in the park, furthering the branding.

One of the largest obstacles the group faced was Canada’s tourism slump. From 2002 to 2003, the number of overall tourist visiting Ontario dropped from close to 130 million visitors to just under 115 million, according to The Ontario Tourism Outlook. While the number of Ontario tourists rebounded slightly to roughly 119 million visitors in 2004, that was still down over 10 million visitors from only two years before in 2002.

In regard to production, timing was the biggest issue Ontario Place and TMGTV faced. “The park opened on May 22nd last year and we began shooting on May 26 with an on-air date of June 14,” says Caddo. They shot the DRTV in five days and edited it in seven. Adding to the pressure, the long form needed to be re-edited due to requests made by the Canada Radio and Television Commission, a government agency that approves all advertising in Canada. “There is special sensitivity when marketing to children,” explains Caddo. Martino notes the changes, dealing with wording, were very typical.

Sasso chalks up the success of the good, albeit time-crunched shoot, to the strong lead time they were afforded. “We had to wait out the weather for shooting,” he says, “but we had lots of time to prep everything.”

Sasso saw Ontario Place’s objectives as twofold, to sell more season passes and to increase traffic to the park. At the time, the park was introducing a new weather guarantee, which needed to be explained to the public. “The infomercial took a family through the park,” explains Sasso. “It shows information about the rides, the different age groups enjoying different types of rides and events, while explaining to parents how the weather guarantee works, all while the kids are shown having a great time. It shows what Terry Caddo terms ‘depth of offer.’”

Another important goal for Ontario Place was to drive traffic to its website-a goal, which was certainly met. “Online sales were five times the previous year and we doubled our budget for online ticket sales,” points out Caddo. The infomercial was purposely created to push only web-driven sales, and the call-to-action just included website information rather than posting a toll-free number.

The TMGTV team attributes the Ontario Place project’s success to several factors. “TMGTV has been successful with mainstream clients, so we were able to give Ontario Place the best of both worlds,” says Deborah Kelly, manager of productions at TMGTV Productions. Martino elaborates, “We have worked with Fortune 500 companies and non-traditional companies such as banks, and the governments of Ontario and Canada, which gave us the experience for this project.”

Sasso suggests strong branding helped with the success of the project. This was achieved by running the radio ads, 30- and 60-second spots and the 30-minute infomercial simultaneously with the same “Kids Just Wanna Have Fun” theme. According to the TMGTV team, all of Toronto seems to have the Ontario Place version of Cyndi Lauper’s song stuck in their heads.

Kelly adds, “The great thing about shooting this was the large amount of pre-production; it helped when it came time to iron out any issues when they came to light. The client was great and the park was great, which made it fun and a great show to do.” She continues that TMGTV helped to create the needed excitement for customers to want to visit the park. Martino adds that TMGTV “did a good job in showing the different features of the park and what Ontario Place has to offer.”

While Caddo can’t give specific financial numbers, as the government hasn’t signed off on them yet, he notes that in 2004, Ontario Place celebrated its 33rd year in business and it was its most successful financial year. And that is saying something in a year of SARS scares and overall poor tourism in Toronto. Caddo notes that, “Ontario Place was the exception to the rule” of a bad year for Canadian tourism attractions in 2004.

Along with increases in website traffic and overall financial success for the park, Caddo notes that “non-scientifically” he has received very positive feedback from industry and attraction people who viewed the commercials. “While nothing works in a vacuum,” he continues, “TMGTV was a contributing factor in our success.”

Ontario Place does not plan to use long-form DRTV this year. As Caddo points out, “currently, people know the depth of our offerings.” They do plan to revisit the marketing channel in the future. TMGTV Productions has already created its 30- and 60-second spots for 2005. It should be a bright year for Ontario Place as the Ontario Tourism Outlook is forecasting close to 123 million visitors spending over $18 billion (Canadian) this year.

Alexandra Harrington is a contributing writer to Electronic Retailer. We would appreciate your feedback. To submit comments, point your browser to


  • By Linda Donohe, May 6, 2009 @ 10:32 am

    How can I buy a copy of the song as my kids just wanna listen
    to it all the time?
    Ontario Place took it off their website.

  • By vpaynich, May 12, 2009 @ 10:54 am

    I believe that you can find the song on iTunes.

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